Wednesday 30 March 2016

The five steps that helped me to get back to work

Wondering how or indeed if you will ever get back to work again? You are not alone - I remember that feeling well. Here are a few practical steps based on my own experience, that will help you to re-establish your existing skills and learn new ones, build your confidence and broaden your network. 

1. Take an online course. When I was looking for work after a career break, I found myself out of touch with social media. I was recommended a course from HootSuite, The Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing. The course offers 6 modules from optimising your social media profile (great if you are looking for work) to social media marketing strategy (useful if you are looking to set up your own business), and you can take a certification exam for your CV. I also took the Coursera Learning How to Learn course last year to develop more general skills - it helped me to focus and be methodical, and to learn memory and time management techniques. Taking a course demonstrates your commitment, your enthusiasm for a subject, your desire to keep current and your appetite to learn something new, and is a good talking point at an interview or during an informal chat. However be sure of why you want to do the course before starting to have the best chance of seeing it through. Are you looking to get a recognised qualification from a prestigious university? Or perhaps you just want to bring a skill up to date. See the previous post on MOOCs here  to read more about the range of free courses available. And if you're relaunching in STEM, do look the new Reboot your STEM career course from Open Learn, the free learning platform of the Open University. 

2. Find skills-based volunteer opportunities. While looking for a paid role, you could sharpen your skills and put some of this theory into practise by volunteering. This doesn’t have to be formal - you could try your school parents’ association (I practiced my events planning and fundraising skills that way) or help a friend setting up a new business (I put my rusty HTML coding and design skills to the test by helping to build a new website). It’s amazing to see your skills valued and used in a different context. You'll find that “you still have it” after all, and this is very reassuring and empowering. Plan your strategic volunteering by reading our previous post on the subject here.

3. Get feedback on your CV. Ask your friends and ex-colleagues for feedback; it’s even better if you can send them a job spec that caught your eye along with your CV. I found that it helped to get a fresh pair of eyes looking at my CV and assessing objectively my suitability for a particular job.

4. Attend an event. Take a look at events targeting women looking to return to work organised by relevant professional bodies and associations, alumni groups and local communities. In my case, attending the Mumsnet Workfest event last year was a catalyst. I had to be dragged by a friend to sign up, as I was uncertain about my professional aspirations or what I would get out of the event.  But against the odds, I felt energised by the women I met, who reminded me of what I had to offer. I came back with practical advice (on my CV, on a job search strategy, on interviews) and was inspired by Katerina and Julianne’s session on returning to work after a career break. I was armed with new tools to look for work that would work for me. For events listing and Women Returners' talks and workshops, check our website and our monthly newsletter.

5. Get a mentor. A mentor can really help give you focus in your job search. I took part last year in the Steps Ahead mentoring pilot scheme, facilitated by the CIPD. My mentor was chosen according to the industry I wanted to move into. She provided me with valuable insight into this industry, how to tailor my CV and what a typical role would entail, and gave me a lot of encouragement, support and help. If you're a STEM returner, do look at the free mentoring available through the new MentorSET programme. 

These actions helped me to assess my situation more objectively, to determine how soon I wanted to go back to work, in what capacity and for what kind of organisation. While this is not an exhaustive list, why not try investigating one of these suggestions? You might be surprised by how much closer you get to your professional goal and how much more confident you feel at each step.

Posted by Muriel

Thursday 24 March 2016

First steps towards a board role

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have just released their new report on board appointment practices in the UK’s largest 350 listed firms. More than 60% of these firms have not met a voluntary target of 25% female board members. If you're interested in boosting these numbers, this week's post by Rowena Ironside, Chair of Women on Boards UK, explores what types of roles you can seek in the boardroom, how to go about it, and what you can bring to the table. 

Some of us are fortunate to get an insight into the boardroom early on in our career. In my case this was thanks to being an executive director of a start-up business at the age of 30. But for most people what goes on in the boardroom remains a mystery until very late in their career. And if you don’t know what boards do, how do you know if your skills are relevant or if the role is one that you will enjoy?

Women on Boards (WOB) exists to fill this information gap. Our mission is to influence a measurable increase in the proportion of women both on boards and in “pipeline” roles at the executive level. And to achieve increased transparency in the board recruitment process, because at the moment the majority of board roles (public sector aside) are never advertised.

The good news is that the single most valuable asset in most boardrooms is common sense. Accompanied by the courage to ask tough questions and challenge the status quo from time to time.

Boards exist to challenge and support the executive team. They add value through a combination of collective judgement and the deep, specific expertise of each director. As an individual board member you don’t need to know everything; you don’t even need to have expertise in the “core business” of the organisation. As long as you bring a specific skill, experience or network that is valuable to the organisation at that point in time. For example:  
  • Don’t assume that you need to be a horticulturalist or an environmentalist to join the board of Kew Gardens. They may have a gap for digital marketing or event management skills on their board this year.
  •  First board role? Not everyone around the table needs to have years of boardroom experience. A board that is explicitly searching for past governance experience is not going to be anybody’s first board role. But most boards are equally interested in your breadth of experience and professional skills.
A common mistake is defining your options too narrowly by thinking you have to stay – or at least start – in “your sector”. Some charities need asset management and M&A experience and you may find that a Public Sector board is in need of your technology or risk management skills.

Women on Boards is there to help you navigate this complexity. Our resources and support are designed to provide a structured pathway to a board position that is right for you. As Clara Durodie, one of our members described it last year: “It felt as if someone was holding my hand, guiding me with care and skill”. WOB provides:
  1. Workshops, events and masterclasses that combine strategic insights and pragmatic advice. Our Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential workshop is a fast-paced tour through everything you need to know about directorship and how to do yourself justice as a candidate. Our Boardroom Conversations are designed to “open the curtains” so that you can be inspired by the opportunities on boards in a sector you haven't previously considered, or for in-depth insights from current non-executives in an area you are targeting.
  2. Access to board vacancies across all sectors – most weeks we have at least 150 non-executive director, trustee and governor vacancies on the WOB Vacancy Board.
  3.  Feedback on your Board CV. Writing a non executive profile that does you justice takes time and requires insight into what board members actually do. We will help.
  4.  Personal advice, connections and encouragement. This is WOB’s USP.  We will support you with targeted interventions at key points along the way, like when you are preparing for a board interview. We also do hugs if you are recovering from coming second for that role you really wanted.
  5. A rich Resource Centre of reference materials, research, articles and success stories. Our On Board page is my personal favourite. 
There are thousands of different boards across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. WOB believes that there is a board role for everyone who wants one and that you are never too young to understand what goes on at the top table. The boardroom is where capital is allocated and where the moral and ethical standards for organisations in all sectors are set. We need more female voices at the table.
For more information about strategic volunteering, read our previous post here.

Rowena Ironside is Chair of Women on Boards UK, a non-executive director of the Digital Catapult and sits on the Governing Body of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. Before “going plural”, Rowena spent 25 years in the ICT industry, starting her career writing software in Australia; building and selling an IT services business in London and finally running several multi-national professional and managed services businesses in the software and hosting industries. She took a year’s break in 2002 to complete the Sloan Masters at London Business School.

For more information on Women on Boards, join The WOB Network

Posted by Muriel

Friday 18 March 2016

Return-to-work CV Tips and Ideas

Last month we hosted a free webinar for our Network members on how to create an effective CV for your job search. We offered many tips and insights about what recruiters look for and addressed questions such as how to present your career break, whether to write a functional CV rather than a chronological one and how to take advantage of open questions in job applications. We have collected the key insights in this post, for those of you who missed the webinar.

How should I structure my CV?

Recruiters will expect to see three key sections:

  • Profile / Executive Summary: this describes your background, expertise and role you are seeking in 2 -3 sentences
  • Key Skills: list your 5 or so key skills, with brief evidence. Avoid generic skills like team player, leader, highly organised. Use specific skills such as strategic planning & implementation, procurement, digital media marketing
  • Professional Experience in reverse chronological order: state your achievements and contribution, not a role description. If you have a long career history, it's fine just to list early career role titles.
Following these sections include your Education & Professional Development, Memberships and other skills/activities (fluent languages, interests etc). Keep your CV to two pages in length.

Avoid functional CVs - recruiters don't like them because they make it hard to piece together your employment history.

What should I include/exclude?

When deciding the content, think about the business case you are making:
  • Why should they hire you?
  • What expertise will you bring?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates?
How do I describe my career break?
  • Don't try to hide it, particularly if you are applying for returner programmes where having a key break is one of the eligibility criteria
  • Call it a planned career break
  • Include any work (paid or voluntary) and training you have done which is relevant to the role you are seeking
  • You can include a reason for your break (e.g. parental career break; career break for caring responsibilities) but you don't have to
How do I answer the 'tell us about you' question on online application forms?

This question gives you the opportunity to do more than just repeat what is in your profile statement. You can use it in two ways:

  • to highlight aspects of your skills and your expertise that are relevant to the role you're applying for, to encourage the recruiter to look in detail at your CV
  • to express your motivation for and interest in the role which you don't otherwise have the chance to do
One final tip
As 97% of recruiters will reject a CV with 2 or more typos, take plenty of time to check your CV carefully and get others to read it through with a fresh eye, to spot errors you might have missed.

For more advice on CVs check our previous posts:

How to write your post break CV
The 'CV gap' barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it
What about the gap in my CV?

Posted by Katerina

Friday 11 March 2016

Routes back to work for expatriates: going independent

Returning to work as an expatriate is both exciting and challenging. In her second post, Claire d'Aboville explores how expatriates can work independently, adapt to different markets, make the most of their differences and turn them into competitive advantages.

You have put your career on hold, possibly in order to raise children. During that time, the family has moved to another country, where it currently resides. You feel now is the right time to get back to a professional activity. Amongst the various routes, creating your own business is an attractive option, offering flexibility and independence. What do you need to consider? Let’s focus on specifics related to your expatriate situation.

Retain same field of work, or not?

First you need to think about the field of work you want to get into. A few questions are worth investigating.
  • Are your skills recognised locally and what does it take to get local recognition? I once worked with a dentist from the Middle East who decided to go into headhunting because she did not feel like going through retraining as a dentist in the UK. You need to do a bit of research to find out whether your diploma and experience are accepted in the country you are in.
  • Do you speak the local language to a level that allows you to do a good job? My initial field of work was human resources. As a French person working in England and Germany, I felt it was easier to focus on the remuneration side of my profession than on the leadership development side. It felt less challenging to talk numbers than to talk emotions in a foreign language.
  • Are your skills up to date? Chances are that the world has moved on since you last worked. Also you may need to boost your confidence with some refresher course. Or you may want to learn something new. In any case, it might be wise to take a local course, as opposed to relying on e-learning, because a local course will also help you with your local network. I retrained as a coach in the UK.
  • Lastly, how portable do you want your activity to be? And how portable will your client base need to be? This is a wide topic. The two main aspects to consider are your personal plans and practicalities. Are you settled in this new country for many years or not? How quickly can you build a new client base if you move again? My current clients are UK based, but I could stay in touch remotely with many of them if I moved again.
In a nutshell, your field of work has to fit two criteria: you feel passionate enough about it and it is practically possible.

What does it take?

In addition to thinking about the field of work you want to engage in, you need to be aware of the specifics of “going it alone” and how they impact you as an expatriate.
  • Every independent professional has to work on his/her marketing and to make sure he/she has enough clients to work with. It takes time to build a client base. Being from a different country, you may not have any initial network to press the “word-of-mouth” key. And you may not have ready-to-buy clients who know you from a previous role. Therefore your efforts and patience might be needed.
  • Depending on when you have moved to the new country, you might still be busy adjusting to the new environment. You are less in your comfort zone than if you were at home. You have more uncertainty to deal with. These adjustments take your attention and energy away from starting your business.
  • It is quite useful to think about how your business (and you in it!) can cope with moving country again. I know a French financial auditor who retrained as an artist in the UK and established a good client base there. After her husband took a new role in Dubai, she had to start her marketing all over again, but she was able to apply lessons learned in the UK.
  • Lastly, you need to learn about the local legal, fiscal and business practices. This requires research and probably expert advice, depending on the country. Not all countries are equally welcoming to very small independent businesses. My friend in France found it much more challenging to register her business there than I did to register mine in the UK.
What market to serve, what ideal client?

Last but not least, who is your ideal client and whom do you want to serve?
  • As an expatriate, the community you are likely to know best is the expatriate community. According to my observations, the bigger the culture gap and the more remote the host country, the stronger and more supportive the expatriate community is. That can create an ideal market for you.
  • Modern technology broadens your world and your potential client base. As a teacher or a coach, you can work via skype and phone. As a journalist or writer you can deliver your work over Internet. In those cases, it does not matter so much where your clients are, provided you are able to keep in contact with them and keep marketing yourself, i.e. be visible and in a position to get work.
  • Lastly, you may consider bringing to local clients precisely what local people do not have / have less of: i.e. language, technical skills or products specific to your culture. I know a French person who offers her perspective and interior design skills to the expatriate community in Hong-Kong.
Working independently offers incomparable advantages with regards to flexibility and control of your time. As an expatriate, you face specific challenges but you also can build on your differences and turn them into competitive advantages.

For more information on issues facing expatriates, read Claire's first post on returning to work after international relocation.

Post by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching

Friday 4 March 2016

Is caregiving as valuable as breadwinning?

I've been reading Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter this week. The book follows on from a controversial article she wrote in 2012 in The Atlantic "Why women still can't have it all". She had left her role as director of Policy Planning at the US State Department to return to an academic career, as she wanted to have more time with her teenage sons. At the time she was criticised for 'dropping out' and betraying her feminist ideas - incredible, considering she was returning to another high-level full-time role. 

Now Anne-Marie Slaughter has come forward with a big vision - to 'finish the business' of creating equality between men & women, work & family. She sees the key to doing so as changing society and the workplace to value caregiving alongside breadwinning. She suggests that the core problem for gender equality in the workforce is that caregiving has been devalued and discriminated against.

Putting aside the debate on feasibility of the societal and workplace changes she is advocating, there is an important message in the book for those who have taken a career break to look after children or other family members. 

We can, all of us, stand up for care.

It's hard to disagree with Anne-Marie Slaughter's statement that caregiving has been devalued. However, as individuals, we don't have to go along with this. As Slaughter puts it: We can, all of us, stand up for care. It's refreshing to have a powerful woman challenging the assumption that the work we do as professionals is harder than the work we do as parents or caregivers. She concludes that caregiving done well 'is just as valuable and formative an experience as competition'. This isn't about valuing one above the other or returning to a world where most mothers stay at home, it's about recognising that family and work are equally important. The work-family choices that people make - working full-time, part-time, at home - should be equally validated and facilitated for both men and women. Slaughter echoes our view that there should be freedom for people to slow down or pause their career for caregiving reasons without stigma or penalty.

Admittedly, society and most of the workplace may be lagging far behind in this realisation. But standing up for care is a useful mantra to remember if you find yourself, when you're ready to return to the workforce, feeling embarrassed or apologetic about having taken a long career break. Or feeling a failure or a poor female role model when you compare yourself with ex-colleagues who didn't pause their career and are now in top-level roles. Having the freedom to compete at the highest levels of a career doesn't make it an obligation to do so. The value that you have brought to your family can constitute just as much of a success for this phase of your life.

Posted by Julianne